Fedde Le Grand Put Your Hands Up For Detroit
Photo: Team Le Grand

Fedde Le Grand: How 'Put Your Hands Up for Detroit' Changed My Life

On the 15th anniversary of its release, Fedde Le Grand explains how a track he wasn't even fussed about became an international club classic.
Emma Garland
as told to Emma Garland
London, GB
June 29, 2021, 8:15am

Anyone who has set foot in a club between the year 2006 and the present day will no doubt have sloshed a few bottles of VK over their daps to “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit”, the titanic electro house banger and breakout single by Dutch electronic producer and DJ Fedde Le Grand.

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After being self-released and ragging it up the charts in Holland, “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit” quickly became an international dance-floor staple, reaching number one in the UK, Spain, Russia, Scotland Finland and Bulgaria. The video, filmed inside the old Safeway headquarters in Hillingdon, naturally, has since entered the mid-00s canon of Provocative Sequences Of Hot Women Doing Activities In High Contrast And Card Shop Halloween Costumes. It’s a modern classic that will never fail to get arses off seats, fingers in the air and crowds yelling its nine words, with the full force of their spirit, completely incorrectly (once more for the cheap seats at the back: it’s “our lovely city”).

Here, Fedde Le Grand discusses the impact of “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit”, and its place in the burgeoning landscape of p2p file sharing, music video television and a transitional era for electronic dance music in general.

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Before “Put Your Hands Up 4 Detroit” was released, I mainly DJ’d at this tiny club in Tilburg. It was literally one of those places that was a café by day, somewhere you could have lunch and coffee, and at night they’d move all the tables to the side to make room for a dance-floor. Funkerman played there on Thursdays and he’d been thinking about starting a record label, so we launched Flamingo Recordings in 2004 and started putting things out on our own.

Every track we made we would send to Defected, Subliminal and Spinnin’ Records, because those were the hottest labels at the time. “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit” was the third or fourth track we tried to land, but nobody was interested. Flamingo was doing okay for a new independent label though, so we were like ‘fuck it, we’ll just do it ourselves again’. As soon as it was released, it started to have a life of its own.

Things were a little dead for dance music in the mid-200s, at least in Holland. The main club sounds – throughout Europe, for the most part – were hip-hop and R&B. So I started to throw my own parties in Tilburg and Eindhoven, because I didn’t really know anyone else in the dance scene. I was really shy back then so I didn’t have the guts to go to Amsterdam and walk into a club like ‘hey, I’m so-and-so, book me!’ So I thought if I put on parties myself, I could book the DJs that I liked and get to know them organically. 

Those parties ended up doing really well. It was a very small scene in Holland, so if you were a dance lover you really had to know the spots because there were only a few – which is partly why ours were so successful. When one of my favourite Dutch DJs, Erick E, suggested we take the concept to Amsterdam, we joined forces, and that was probably the beginning of a serious career for me. Shortly after that, me and Funkerman started Flamingo.

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At the time, DJs would always exchange tracks that we found. This was back in the vinyl days, so it was hard to get your hands on things – if there were only three pressings of a release, that was literally all the copies there were in existence. One of the DJs at this bigger club I used to play in shared my affinity for broken beat stuff, and he had a copy of “Hands Up For Detroit” by Matthew Dear. There were maybe only two or three copies of that in Holland. He played it for me and, to be honest, I wasn’t super convinced at first. 

I was really into funky house and disco-based music, but I didn’t have any of those disco tracks on vinyl to mix with. So instead I tried to recreate those sounds with what I had, which was basically just the synths that came with Logic. My dad was really into James Brown and Parliament and George Clinton and all that kind of stuff, and I always loved this one Parliament track called “Flashlight”. I knew a few notes that I thought were funky, so I tried to play a similar sort of bassline and then double the notes and build things up from there. After about three days I had the basic idea for a track, but it needed something else. That’s when I remembered “Hands Up For Detroit”, and put everything together. When I finished the track I was still on the fence about it. I wanted to make it a B-side, but Funkerman really liked it and made it the A-side – in hindsight, thank god he did! 

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First my Dutch colleagues started playing it, because I gave out a few copies to local DJs. But this was also the dawn of the internet becoming fast enough to share music, so all these bootleg versions started showing up of “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit” cut straight out of someone else’s set – along with background noise from the MC and the crowd. People would play that version at parties as well, so we could see that there was something going on. But the moment I really realised that it was special was when Dave Spoon contacted me, literally over AOL or something. We chatted for a little bit and he said ‘yeah me and my friend Mark from CO2 Records really love the track’. A few months later we signed it from our own label to CO2. Shortly after that Dave signed it to Ministry Of Sound, who released it worldwide and came up with the video. There was already a big club buzz around it, but as soon as the video came out it just took off everywhere.

Today, if you have a record that size you automatically go from your bedroom to the main stage, but back then it wasn’t common at all. In fact there was a lot of backlash to the song. I read several articles that were like “it’s just a one hit wonder, who cares”, “can he even DJ”, “he looks like a Backstreet Boy”. I had always played what you would now call ‘tech house’, and all of a sudden I found myself in this commercial dance space being met with quite a lot of negativity.

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After the track came out a lot of the bookings I would get were alongside acts like Vengaboys, 2-Unlimited and Scooter, which wasn’t at all what I wanted to do. I remember doing a tour in Australia, playing in a small tent, and I distinctly remember Carl Cox, Sharam from Deep Dish and Josh Wink all standing behind me like ‘okay, let’s see if this guy can play’. Because of that Carl later invited me to play Space in Ibiza and I did a few other gigs with him too, which was a huge relief as that’s really what I wanted to be doing! 

Obviously I kind of knew right away that I was never ever going to be able to be a fully underground DJ. It’s like ordering mayonnaise at a five star restaurant – you can never come back from that. I do understand that, and I’ve made my peace with it now, but it did hurt a little back then. The track becoming a crossover was totally accidental, I never had in mind that it would be a huge radio hit. I was lucky that people like Carl and Mark embraced me for the artist that I wanted to be, but it took a good year before things started to go in a direction I was happy with. A few years later I did “Let Me Think About It” with Ida Corr, which also fell in a grey area between dance, pop and indie. After that song especially, I deliberately did more underground stuff for a long time. 

In my opinion, the popularity of “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit” was part of a weird transitional phase for dance music in general. “Call On Me” by Eric Prydz, “Exceeder” by Mason and “Satisfaction” by Benny Benassi were all released around the same time, and that made a huge difference. I think it was the beginning of people starting to think about dance music as a regular guest on radio – not just in a more club-ready format, but as a thing itself. It was hated and it was embraced, and in a way that’s still how it is.

I think without consciously knowing it, we were onto something with “Put Your Hands Up For Detroit” by mixing up funky sounds in a very electronic way. There was a lot of disco house around at that time, so everything that could be sampled already had been. I can’t say we had a “vision”, it was just a desire to do something else, but it ultimately came down to not being scared to try something different while still retaining that funky feel. As with everything it was a combination of hard work, a bit of luck, and timing. And I guess I was lucky!

We did discuss whether to change the hook to “put your hands up for Amsterdam” or “Eindhoven” or whatever. It could have been anything, but for me Chicago and Detroit were where all the techno DJs I look up to came from, so it made sense to do a sort homage to that scene. Musically, it’s such an awesome city, and I think people really embraced the record. To this day they still play it at sporting events and stuff in Detroit. Even if the track had the same reaction today, if it was equally hated and embraced, I wouldn’t change anything at all. It went how it should have went.

@feddelegrand